HYMN 198 How Firm a Foundation Ye Saints of the Lord
Updated: Oct 7, 2020
German: Auf ewigem Grunde, auf Felsen gebaut
Norwegian: Hvor fast er den Grundvold
St. 1, 1 Corinthians 3:11; 2: Isaiah 41:10; St. 3-4; Isaiah 43:2; St. 5: Romans 8:35-39; Hebrews 13:5; Deuternomy 31:6;
Text: George Keith (1638-1716??). Tune: Anonymous from Southern Harmony 1835
1. How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord, Is laid for your faith in his excellent Word! What more can he say than to you he has said, To you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?
2. "Fear not, I am with you, O be not dismayed; For I am your God, and will still give you aid; I'll strengthen you, help you, and cause you to stand, Upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand.
3. "When through the deep waters I call you to go, The rivers of sorrow shall not overflow; For I will be with you, your troubles to bless, And sanctify to you your deepest distress.
4 "When through fiery trials your pathway shall lie, My grace, all-sufficient, shall be your supply; The flame shall not hurt you; I only design Your dross to consume and your gold to refine.
5 "E'en down to old age all my people shall prove My sovereign, eternal, unchangeable love; And when hoary hairs shall their temples adorn, Like lambs they shall still in my bosom be borne.
6 "The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose, I will not, I will not desert to his foes; That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake, I'll never, no never, no never forsake."
MEDITATION In its first publication, this chestnut, was printed with the superscript, “Exceeding great and precious promises. (1 Peter 1:4)
Yes, this great and stately hymn is drenched in the promises from Scripture. (See the above references with the stanzas.) Hymns are not always this Scriptural, although they usually are shaped by Scriptures. This is almost unique. It isn’t quite a paraphrase, but it uses the voice of Jesus to assure us of the excellent foundation we have in him, in his word.
Most of the people who would have sung it in the 18th century would have been able to quote chapter and verse of the origins of the stanzas. Today we do not have that kind of biblical literacy among us. But the hymn achieves something by putting these selections together in the mouth of Jesus. We hear what some have called the Shepherd’s voice here. Directly addressed to us by the singers as we address the others in our group. It has a more powerful and comforting effect on us, maybe, because we are hearing directly from Jesus.
And it is not sugarcoating the life of faith. We will suffer. Martin Luther names suffering as a mark of the church. To live under the cross is to suffer. It is not something we seek; it happens. With our new vision, our eyes are trained to see differently,—to have one’s eyes opened as several of our hymns have prayed—is to see more than we could see before. And when we see more clearly, we see more beauties, but also more suffering. We ourselves will have to face perils and difficulties, even the earthquakes of hell, simply because we see through the eyes of Jesus.
When the producer of the television movie The Day After, a film version of what life might look like after a nuclear bomb had devastated an American city, he asked for an American tune to play at the end in the face of all the devastation. They found this tune. They of course did not know the hymn text. So Christians watching the movie, ironically, who knew the hymn were having quite a different experience from people who did not know the hymn, in fact, they were comforted. "When through fiery trials your pathway shall lie,/My grace, all-sufficient, shall be your supply;/The flame shall not hurt you; I only design/Your dross to consume and your gold to refine.”
Facing the wrath of the evil one, we can trust in the all sufficient grace of Jesus. The flames cannot hurt us. We can take it, because as Jesus promises us, “I’ll never, no never, no never forsake!” Those repetitions make for a powerful reassurance that we can sing with confidence. When we close the hymnal after singing it, we can feel assured we are safe even in the midst of terror.
HYMN INFO The source of this hymn is uncertain. It first appeared in John Rippon’s A Selection of Hymns from 1787. The author was noted as simply K. Scholars are not certain who that might be. Today they have settled on the possibility that it could be George Keith or Robert Keene both of whom had some connection with the publisher. The tune in some cases has been "Adeste Fideles, O Come all Ye Faithful," but the more popular tune s from the Southern Harmony collection of 1835. Called Foundation, its composer is anonymous from the early American treasury.
LINKS Grace Community Church, California https://youtu.be/8sbgARp5Eww
Fernando Ortego https://youtu.be/Prb4C_PEwWM
Violin and Piano Solo https://youtu.be/MboHCq-ZRyM
Mormon Tabernacle Choir--a different tune https://youtu.be/ezGzcuAfyBE